Wellington is full of surprises. Highlights of the first two days of our tour included a native plant reserve of international significance just 5 km from the city centre, and two private gardens that have been developed on former sheep farms. John Scott’s modernist masterpiece, the sublime Futuna chapel, left an indelible memory. And a blustery walk to the edge of Cook Strait reminded us why wind farms are located where they are.
In the Wairarapa, it was like stepping back in time. In 1856 four Beetham brothers took up pastoral land east of Masterton and built a whare of pit-sawn totara. On our tour in the Wairarapa we stood in that same whare, which was more recently used as a workshop, where the great-grandson of one of the brothers shared with us the history of Brancepeth station. In its heyday the station covered more than 20,000 ha and employed 300 people. The stables and the office are as if the staff stepped out 60 years ago and never returned. Edward Beetham invited us into his 36-room farmhouse, which is filled with period furniture, paintings (including by his artist great-great-grandfather) and family mementos. A historically significant pataka, named Nuku Tewhatewha, stood in the grounds for decades and was cared for by the Beetham family. It’s now in the Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt, and on our way home we stopped to see it, fresh from a recent restoration. This was a real insight into New Zealand’s pastoral history, and the story of one of the country’s farming dynasties.
It was a very special experience on our Wellington and Wairarapa tour to be hosted on Kapiti Island by a family with Maori ancestors who took over the island 200 years ago and Pākehā ancestors with connections nearly as old. As kaitiaki they shared their knowledge of the land and its special fauna and flora, and as hosts they were very welcoming.
Our tour concluded in the Wairarapa, which is full of interesting places to explore. Stops included the vintage collection of Pointon Motors, visiting the white kiwi of Mt Bruce Pukaha sanctuary and our very own Stonehenge Aotearoa. Of course we didn’t miss the opportunity, opportunities actually, to sample some excellent Martinborough pinot noir.